Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 10/26/12
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Doc Rivers never had any problem convincing his players to share the ball last season, as evidenced by the Celtics' league-leading assist percentage. When the passing game would break down -- which was more often than Rivers liked -- the difficulty was a problem of execution, rather than intent. Almost to a man, last year's Celtics players were naturally unselfish. Yet despite the presence of all-world passers like Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics were not an outstanding passing team. They simply did not have the personnel to move the ball as well as they expect to this season, with the addition of at least three frontcourt players with excellent court vision and passing instincts for their positions. Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Darko Milicic add that dimension to the offense, and Jason Terry is an underrated passer as well. Add those four to a lineup with Garnett, Rondo and Paul Pierce, and Rivers could send out a group in which all five players are above-average passers. In fact, Rivers intends to do just that. "I don't know if we're more unselfish" this year, Rivers said Friday at the Celtics' practice facility. "More skilled might be a better word. I thought last year we were unselfish. We just didn't have a bunch of great passers. This year we just have better passers. Darko's a phenomenal passer. Jared's a good passer. Jeff Green's a great passer. That's three guys we didn't have." As mentioned above, the Celtics led the NBA by assisting on more than two-thirds of their field goals last season. They were almost five full percentage points better than the second-place team, the Bucks, yet their offensive efficiency was still the seventh-worst in the league at only 98.9 points per 100 possessions. Much of that blame falls on turnovers. Rondo was a major culprit, as his 3.6 turnovers per game matched Russell Westbrook for the fifth-highest average in the league. But the fault was not Rondo's alone. Almost 15 percent of the Celtics' possessions ended in a turnover, a mark that was worse than the lowly Nets, Cavs, Wizards or Bobcats. The Oklahoma City Thunder had the highest turnover rate of 15.25 percent, but the Western Conference champions more than offset that by playing at a much faster pace than the Celtics. (The Thunder averaged 95.3 possessions per game, or 1.5 more than the league average, en route to the NBA Finals last season. The Celtics averaged 92.3 possessions per game, or 1.5 less than the league average, and were bailed out most of the time by their strong defense.) Rivers and Danny Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations, recognized that this was a potentially fatal problem. That was why Rivers' offseason shopping list for Ainge included another strong backcourt defender, a rebounder, a few backup big men and a playmaker or two. Ainge came through with checks next to every box.

This article first appeared on NESN.com and was syndicated with permission.

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